What’s the point of Media Studies?

EMC has invited some well-known figures in the world of English and Media teaching to give their views on a subject about which they feel strongly by writing us a guest blog. These blogs will not necessarily represent the views of The English and Media Centre, but promise to be thought-provoking and spark debate.

peteIn the second of our guest blogs, Pete Fraser asks: what’s the point of Media Studies? Pete is well-placed to answer this question, with nearly 30 years experience of classroom practice and working with teachers to benefit their students. He is also a senior examiner and moderator and has written and edited a number of Media Studies publications. He is currently Chair of The Media Education Association and blogs for MediaMagazine on Pete’s Media Blog.


I worked out that if you add up all the people who have passed Media Studies A Level since it started, there are over 400,000 of them – enough to fill Wembley more than four times over, or the equivalent of more than two complete Glastonbury crowds. If you add all those who have taken GCSE, vocational courses and degrees in the subject, the figure probably tops one million.

Was studying Media a waste of time for all those people? You might think so from the way the subject is routinely dismissed by politicians and, ironically, the media.

In recent months, in my capacity as Chair of the Media Education Association, I’ve been involved in a campaign to convince the Department for Education and Ofqual to keep Media and Film Studies A Levels, which were both under some threat of extinction, despite the large numbers of students taking them (28,000 combined completed the A Levels this summer).

To help this campaign, we asked schools and colleges to give us stories about what their ex-students had gone on to do, to feature on our website. We have had so many that we can keep featuring them for the rest of the year. As well as lots of stories of former students who have gone on to different jobs in the media, we have had many from people who just said that the course developed skills which have been useful to them in other occupations- such as the forensic scientist who said that it was the close analytical work in media that got him interested in forensics! Teamwork, speaking in public, skills with technology, organizational skills, research and working to deadlines were all cited by people who responded as skills they developed on their media course which they would not have been able to develop in other courses.

Check some of them out at the Media Education Association website: Shrewsbury Sixth Form College; Burnham Grammar School; St Mary’s College.

So it’s disappointing to hear the routine dismissal of Media Studies as a curriculum subject that comes from politicians and the media in particular, as well as the misinformation often promulgated in schools and colleges about its value for university entry.

Russell groupThe Russell group ‘Informed choices’ document, which came out in 2011 made explicit what had always been known by those of us who helped students with the UCAS process; these universities ‘prefer’ two ‘traditional’ subjects from the three A2s which students are taking. In addition, fairly obviously, for some courses, some subjects are pretty much essential (like Medicine). But, for most courses, the ‘new’ subjects (which have actually been around for at least a quarter of a century now!) are perfectly acceptable as one of the three. Not to forget the rarely stated point that for most young people, a university that doesn’t happen to belong to the Russell Group is perfectly suitable and good.

The problem is that the rhetoric at that time both from politicians like Mr Gove and from the media, convinced a lot of people, including heads of sixth form and parents, that the document was telling young people that they shouldn’t risk doing any of the courses not on their ‘preferred’ list, which simply wasn’t true.

Why do people still routinely dismiss Media Studies as a subject and make all kinds of negative claims about it?

From politicians and newspaper columnists to skeptical colleagues in the staff room, I’m willing to bet they all have one thing in common: they have no idea what it actually involves. Some of their assumptions are undoubtedly based on the material under study – if it is popular, it must be easy. The presence of coursework is another area which people often take to be synonymous with a course being ‘soft’; exams, the argument goes, are much harder than coursework.

Hmmm, well they should try making a film, even a two minute one, learning how to use the camera properly and how to use an edit program, organizing things as a team, keeping records of everything done in researching and planning, making sure that what is produced actually makes sense to an audience, and then reflecting on the whole process.

Students I interviewed for part of some recent research told me that their immersion in their A2 coursework was the hardest thing they had ever done in school. It was also the most rewarding. And these were students who were doing four A Levels, heading for a string of A grades, including Maths and Sciences in some cases.

Instead of denigrating Media courses, it would be nice sometimes if the media would report their successes, recognising that they offer something different from, but just as worthwhile as more traditional courses.

Dates for your diary
You may be interested to know that we have two Media courses coming up at EMC and that the Media Education Association will be holding their annual conference in November:


Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 09.53.33The Media Education Association annual conference is on Saturday 29 November at the BFI South Bank. Tickets available here.


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